Those of you who have been reading and following this blog (thank you, by the way) have already gotten the impression that I am still pretty much a novice when it comes to wines and that. In my own mind, I know what I like, what I don’t, what to recommend and what to hold off on. There are so many reasons to pick a certain bottle of wine over another starting from the label design and ranging all the way out to where it is from, the type, color, vintner and recommendations from sources far more expert than I. But what is it about a bottle of wine that makes it so personal, so subjective, so intimate?
Wine has been around for a very long time, most probably created accidentally by early man when he first became domesticated and took up farming. It is believed by some researchers that the whole process began when our ancestors bagged and hung some ancient berries so that animals would not get at them. As the berries broke down and produced liquid, it would gradually ferment and voila! Wine was born. As production and storage methods progressed, modernized and sanitized, the product became a little more intricate, a little more civilized and more widely used. At one time wine was even used as currency. Imagine that if you can.
But how did things get so complicated. Everyone knows the adage of, “White with fish, red with meat.” But where did that come from and more importantly, is it still true? How do you know what’s inside a bottle, what flavors and aromas are predominant. Well, hopefully, I can maybe clear it up a little for you and give you the benefit of my findings.
My most important reason for picking a wine is, is it sweet or dry. I have to say, I will never knowingly pick a sweet wine simply because I don’t like it. It’s a personal preference, but I don’t really care much for anything too sweet. I remember that a friend of mine gave me a bottle of chocolate wine once a long time ago. I tried it, as did my wife. One sip. ONE. That was all it took. The drain was treated to the rest. Wine is made from fruit, grapes mostly. But as we become more adventurous we have begun to mix it up a little, adding other berries like cherries, blackberries and on and on to create a new taste sensation. And the combinations can be interesting and very good. But avoiding too much sugar, which is a necessary ingredient, is so important. So for my taste, go dry, or go home.
A very important consideration also is the country or state of origin. Washington, Oregon and other U.S. states now produce great wines. At one time North Carolina was a major producer so really no state can be ignored in your search. Wine is produced all over the world and in so many countries that I never thought of putting out an excellent product. Italy, in my mind the most famous and the home of arguably the best in the world, is joined not only by France (I think they make wine there), but Germany, Greece, Austria and others in the pursuit of the perfect vine, the best blending and fermentation. Each country has its own flavor, its own tradition. Each country caters to the taste and the lifestyle of its people while giving a slight nod to the outside world if the wine is to be exported.
Now, let’s be honest. If I think the bottle is ugly or if it just doesn’t appeal to me, I’m not buying it. That simple. Yes, it’s a personal thing, but I like a simple label, one that I can read without getting too confused or without getting a headache looking at so many different colors and images that I lose interest. Sometimes I almost feel that a too busy, too ornate label can hide an inferior product.
Now, I am again begging here for honesty. So put pride aside and admit it, price is a major factor. Think of wine as a comfort food. Or maybe an experience that makes you comfortable, or brings you to a comfortable state. Why then would you spend an amount that gives you a queasy feeling. Oh sure maybe for a very special occasion, but under ordinary circumstances, know your price range. I have had some of the expensive wines, some costing over $100. Just the idea was amazing to me. But, and this is a big but, I have also had wines in the $12 to $20 range which I can say are excellent and even in some cases compare favorably in every category. Cost is an important factor in life and in wine, it is no exception.
And so, the final consideration, red or white. Whites are clear, sophisticated, clean and crisp. They also tend to be a little lighter. While the flavors of fruits and citrus are delightful and thirst quenching, a pinot grigio or a sauvignon blanc begs for a second glass if only for those reasons. The reds in general are bolder, darker and more mysterious simply by the nature of their color. A good sangiovese or burgundy adds more to the beauty of a finely set table than anything. Reds are better to decant, again due to the color which makes them stand out more. You may have noticed that I left out rose. That is because I very rarely go there because, even though it tastes fine, it kind of reminds me of a wishy-washy pick. The one you make when you can’t make up your mind. But by all means try one. They can be magnificent!
Wine is a great thing, one of man’s better inventions. It gives us pleasure on so many different levels from the bottle to the glass and ultimately, to the palate. Picking one should be a learning experience, one that will stay with you like your times tables or your memories of your favorite things. Advice? Pick one. Try it and move on. There are so many to choose from and eventually you will find a favorite, a go-to bottle that you will proudly share and serve. Meanwhile, it’s a great ride! Think of it as a liquid amusement park!